Liverpool’s fantastic 2-1 victory over Manchester City on Sunday was full of superb performances; but it was the majestic and refreshed Philippe Coutinho who ran the show.
There is an unpredictability about the Brazil international’s game that makes him such a joy to watch. He is always willing to run with the ball, while his passing is outrageous at times. The little magician is tricky with his footing, always turning one way or the other, losing his marker quite easily. One outside-foot pass to Sterling in the first half was vintage Coutinho. In more ways than one, he is a player who shows that statistics are not always particularly meaningful, as his mesmerizing performance so clearly proved.
His passing accuracy may only have been a modest 72 per cent, and he may have won less than half of his duels, but at the end of the day, this was one of the finest individual performances by a Liverpool player this season.
The Brazilian was rested for Thursday’s Europa League loss to Besiktas. It proved to be a shrewd decision by Rodgers, as Liverpool found themselves with a refreshed and influential Coutinho. Another majestic display from him was expected by most, when he scored a curling strike reminiscent to his goal against Southampton last week.
He had started 19 consecutive games for the Reds prior to their trip to Turkey, and although his performances were far from shabby towards the end of that run, any player is going to start showing signs of fatigue after playing so many minutes.
The one thing that Coutinho has been accused of is his erratic shooting and his lack of goals for such a technically gifted footballer. 13 goals in 88 Reds appearances, since joining in January 2013, is fairly mediocre in truth, but there are definite signs that he is adding goals to his game. It’s pretty clear that Rodgers has persuaded him to work on that area of his game on his path to become world class.
Although he has only found the back of the net five times so far this season, four of those have come since the end of December. They have all been an exhibition of finishing.
His lethal effort against Arsenal just before the turn of the year set the ball rolling, and wonderful strikes against Bolton, Southampton and City have since followed.
His shooting accuracy in his last 10 Premier League games has been 62 per cent, compared with a meagre 47 per cent in his 14 league appearances in 2014/15 prior to that. That is very telling.
The beauty with Coutinho is that he is still a very young player learning his trade. His shooting and ruthlessness in front of goal may still be far from perfect, but there are clear signs of improvement.
Much has been made of Liverpool trying to tie Sterling down to a new deal on Merseyside, but it is Coutinho who is comfortably the Reds’ most prized asset.
At just 22, the attacking midfield maestro is only going to get better, and it is simply a matter of time before Europe’s heavyweight clubs come hunting for his signature.
Coutinho is fast becoming one of the most outstanding players in the Premier League, which given his tender years, is quite something. Given time, there’s no doubt that Liverpool’s majestic No. 10 has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the world and an Anfield legend.